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Have you tried mouth guards or exercises for jaw pain and popping? Is your jaw still causing you pain, and you’re not sure what to do next? TMJ arthrocentesis might be one of your dentist’s suggestions to help you achieve a functional and pain-free mouth. Learn about this unique joint and the surgical options for treating it.

What Is the TMJ?

The temporomandibular joint (or TMJ for short) is the joint located between the lower jaw (mandible) and the base of the skull right in front of the ears. In between the two bones is a wafer of cartilage, called a condyle disc, that is held in place between the end of the jawbone and the temporal bone section of the skull. The space that the condyle disc occupies has ligaments and muscles that hold the jaw in place, and the capsule enclosed inside that space is filled with lubricating synovial fluid so the disc can move freely. Your TMJ is what allows you to chew, talk, open and close your mouth.

Why Is TMJ Arthrocentesis Performed?

If the condyle disc is displaced or damaged, it can cause a buildup of fluid, leading to a jaw joint with limited movement that may be painful to open or close. This displacement can happen for the same reasons as a dislocated knee or any other damaged joint: a sharp blow to the area, over-extension or inflammation from arthritis.

TMJ arthrocentesis is usually the first surgical attempt for many patients with TMD (temporomandibular disorder), which causes clicking, grinding, popping, stiffness and pain in the jaw joint. Since the arthrocentesis procedure is more conservative than other, more invasive TMJ surgeries, it is often tried before more drastic options, such as jaw joint replacement.

TMJ Arthocentesis: Procedure and Recovery

Arthrocentesis is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that relieves joint stiffness from fluid buildup. For TMJ arthrocentesis, your oral surgeon will administer a local anesthetic before injecting sterile fluid to flush out the liquid in the joint. A second needle-tipped syringe is then inserted to collect synovial fluid and excess liquid. While your jaw is numbed, your surgeon will gently manipulate it to coax the disc back into place. Some oral surgeons will use general anesthetic for the procedure, but the incision itself will be very small and able to be covered with a simple gauze dressing.

When you return home, the joint and your cheek will be numb. The side of your face may be slightly swollen for a day or two, and the oral surgeon may prescribe some pain medication, jaw exercises or a diet with no hard foods, according to The TMJ Association. Since brushing may be difficult, swish with a mouthwash like Colgate Total Advanced Pro-Shield, which provides 12-hour protection against germs even after drinking and eating. If you suffer from TMJ stiffness, hang in there! Arthrocentesis is only one of a variety of options for helping you live pain-free. There are many routes to a healthy mouth, so always see a dentist to find out what treatments are right for you.